|Maske, Photographs by Phyllis Galembo. |
Published by Chris Boot, 2010.
Reviewed by Sarah Bradley
Phyllis Galembo Maske
Photographs by Phyllis Galembo
Chris Boot, 2010. Hardbound. 208 pp., 108 color illustrations, 8-1/2x9-1/2".
I found a promotional flyer for Phyllis Galembo's work a few years ago and tacked it prominently to my wall at home. It has received more comments than any one image in that collage, prompting a range of responses though mostly centered on profound curiosity. The flyer depicts several men in head-to-toe knit garments, brightly colored and intricately patterned. No one was quite sure what to make of it - the mysterious unusual nature of the image is captivating, but also familiar. These are intrinsically enthralling photographs, an impressive project rooted in Galembo's own long-term fascination with costumes and their transformative power. The over 100 photographs in Maske capture the fantastic costumes of masquerade in Africa and the African Diaspora.
The artistry, creativity and ingenuity of the designs and materials shown in these wearable creations are intriguing and inspiring. The massive range of materials represented in these pages include leaves and grasses, wildly patterned fabric, leather, quills and shells, wood, cardboard and plastic, and on and on. Costumes range from ancient traditional fabrications to garments with a clear colonial influence, yet each is its own, each haunting. The forms are simultaneously human, yet other: some impressive constructions of vines and sticks; some more simplistic garments with hoods, a small carved head resting atop that of the wearer; some elaborate representations of animals, taxidermy heads stretching out from cloaks heavily adorned and ornamented. Children model self-made animal masks constructed from stitched cardboard, and some maskers come decorated in paint, brilliant green and scarlet contrasting vibrantly on their bodies.
The opening essay by Chika Okeke-Agulu, who participated as a child in his town's masking festival in his native Nigeria, frames the book as an important ethnographic document, noting that it is astonishing that so many of these festivals still survive, particularly under the pressure of religion. The book is also a stunning affirmation of Galembo's tenacity and skill in undertaking and orchestrating a project such as this. With images taken in 7 countries, each section opens with a description from Galembo of the group of people she photographed, the significance of the costumes pictured, and the circumstances of her shoot, which, in and of itself, is an intriguing tale.
Sarah Bradley is a writer, sculpture, costumer and general maker of things currently living in Santa Fe, NM. She is a member of the Meow Wolf art collective and has worked for photo-eye since 2008.